Effectiveness of Talk Therapy May Be Exaggerated
According to a new analysis, talk therapy may not be quite as effective as experts had thought.
While mental health treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy can be effective, the research, published in the Journal PLOS, suggests that it may be about 25 percent less effective than previously thought. The benefits of therapy are thought to be overstated in journals, partially because studies with poor results don’t generally receive much attention.
Therapy isn’t the first medical treatment to have exaggerated benefits; doctors have long known that antidepressant benefits are exaggerated by nearly as much. The new reviewpaints a more accurate picture of what patients and doctors should expect from various forms of psychiatry.
An estimated five to six million Americans depend on psychotherapy for treatment of depression each year, and many of them also take antidepressant drugs. The new analysis found that regular doctor consultations provide about a 20 percent chance of achieving lasting recovery. The previous estimate had been 30 percent–a change that means thousands of patients are less likely to benefit than previously thought.
Seeking to weed out publication bias and numerical manipulations, researchers at VU University in Amsterdam looked at all 55 grants funded by the National Institutes of Health to test talk therapy for depression from 1972 to 2008. Cognitive behavioral therapy was the most commonly used therapy, which focuses on altering automatic, self-defeating thoughts.
The researchers found that 13 funded studies were completed but never published, likely because those who conducted the studies felt that results showed no clear finding. Once the unpublished data was retrieved and included with the other published papers, the effectiveness of therapies dropped significantly – by about 25 percent.
These findings highlight the importance of publishing all medical research and not just “breaking news.” And while talk therapy remains an effective treatment for depression, patients need to be realistic about the potential results.